That Was Burgundy, This is Teal
by Ken Arneson
2010-01-18 10:49

You know that dramatic cliché where the main character is trying to solve a problem, and some other character says something completely unrelated to the problem, and the main character goes, “Aha!” and solves the problem?  I’m beginning to think that’s not just some artificial plot device abused to death by the writers of House.  As I’m working on trying to spell out my own personal philosophy, I’m starting to find solutions to the questions I’m wrestling with in completely unrelated places.

So along those lines, I finally got around to watching Battlestar Galactica: The Plan yesterday.  I wasn’t watching it as an exercise in philosophy, I watched it to enjoy one final dose of BSG, and to clear out my DVR before the Olympics start.  But as a half-flashback, half Star Trek-ish morality play, the story for me ended up being more philosophically thought-provoking than dramatically satisfying.  So I won’t dwell on the drama too much, but let’s provoke those thoughts.

I don’t think I’d be spoiling much to say the only thing you really learn about The Plan is that it doesn’t survive first contact with the enemy.  Like the US in Iraq, the Cylons thought that they’d just win quickly and be done with it, mission accomplished.  When instead it dragged on and on, they had to start improvising, and that’s when things get complicated.

Every philosophy begins as grand design, and then ends up bogged down in details.  In BSG: The Plan, nothing less than the survival of the whole human race is at stake, yet the plan eventually devolves into a debate about clothing styles.  Cylon model #1 (Cavil) complains that cylon model #5 (Doral) is dressing too similarly to another Doral clone.  Doral disagrees. “His jacket was burgundy. This is teal!” replies Doral, in all seriousness.

BSG: The Plan is essentially A Tale of Two Cavils, two cylon agents, both posing as priests, one copy on the Galactica, one back on Caprica.  Each Cavil ends up with a moral dilemma:  whether to remain loyal to The Plan, or to follow the path of compassion.  Compassion for the enemy can have fatal consequences for the plan.  But the brutality of a plan that lacks compassion can be utterly appalling.

This is the risk we take when we devote ourselves to a philosophy.  We can become so attached to a philosophy, to a plan, to a cause, that we detach ourselves from our humanity.  This is the very definition of evil: a lack of compassion.

If there is one thing in the Bible that I take to be true above others, it is this: compassion is mankind’s most important quality.  When Jesus was asked what we should do when our values conflict with each other, Jesus said, choose compassion:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Matthew 22:36-40

Above all, show compassion for the entirety of creation, and compassion for individual fellow humans.  It seems so simple in theory, but in practice, it’s not.  There’s a reason that the oldest human institutions, our religions, are designed in their ideal forms to promote human compassion. It’s that important, and yet also that prone to failure.  The procedural memory cells in our brains that dominate our normal behavior live or die on repetition.  We need to be reminded of compassion, to practice it, to make it a habit, or else it will too easily be drowned in the other details of our lives.

We saw this play out this very week with the earthquake in Haiti.  Where BSG is the mere fictional destruction of a civilization, the earthquake in Haiti is real.  That country has been destroyed by that earthquake.  For all practical purposes, there is nothing left there.  They have to start over from scratch.  They need help.

I can think of no event in my lifetime that more obviously calls for human compassion than the earthquake in Haiti.  The suffering is immense.  And yet, there were still people so devoted to their own plans that they could not see beyond their plans to focus on the compassion necessary.  Rush Limbaugh wasted no time turning the issue into a conspiracy theory about Barack Obama.  Meanwhile, Pat Robertson blamed the Haitians themselves for the earthquake.  Willpower bias, anyone?

Of course, perhaps I am guilty of the very same thing in the last few paragraphs, using the events in Haiti to further my own cause, too focused on my own details to see the whole picture in its entirety.  Is this sort of behavior inescapable, inevitable?  I don’t think so.  My philosophy will be different.  My philosophy will take our flaws into account.  My philosophy will acknowledge our competing and contradictory ideals. My philosophy will keep the big picture in focus.  My philosophy will not get so self-absorbed and self-indulgent that it forgets to be compassionate.  That was burgundy.  This is teal.

Comments: 2
1.   fimple
2010-01-18 22:51
Some would argue that we have values, goals, desires...and then we choose a philosophy that justifies those ends. And while it may be true that all religions call for some measure of compassion, I'm not sure that all religions regard compassion as an ultimate goal. I think there are those who would argue that justice or wisdom or harmony with God are the ultimate aims of religion. I'm really looking forward to following where you're going with this though.
2.   Ken Arneson
2010-01-18 23:44
Yes, you're right; compassion is probably *a* value/goal/desire of nearly every religion, but certainly not the only one, and not always the primary one. And you're also right, not just in philosophy, but in all decision-making, that we usually make our choices first, and then use philosophy/reason to justify those choices ex-post facto. Here's the issue: if you avoid that flaw of decision first/reason later--if you reason first, and then decide--how do you avoid the trap where your reason leads you to ignore compassion? So I think my philosophy needs to make at least one choice pre-reason: that compassion gets a veto. If my reasoning takes me to a place that conflicts with compassion, I should take that as a sign that my reasoning or the data it is derived from is flawed, and start over.
Comments on this post are closed.
This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
Original Sites
Recent Posts
Contact Ken
Twitter

LinkedIn

Email: Replace the first of the two dots in this web site's domain name with an @.
Google Search
Web
Toaster
Ken Arneson
Archives
2021
01   

2020
10   09   08   07   06   05   
04   

2019
11   

2017
08   07   

2016
06   01   

2015
12   11   03   02   

2014
12   11   10   09   08   04   
03   01   

2013
12   10   08   07   06   05   
04   01   

2012
12   11   10   09   04   

2011
12   11   10   09   08   07   
04   02   01   

2010
10   09   06   01   

2009
12   02   01   

2008
12   11   10   09   08   07   
06   05   04   03   02   01   

2007
12   11   10   09   08   07   
06   05   04   03   02   01   

2006
12   11   10   09   08   07   
06   05   04   03   02   01   

2005
12   11   10   09   08   07   
06   05   04   03   02   01   

2004
12   11   10   09   08   07   
06   05   04   03   02   01   

2003
12   11   10   09   08   07   
06   05   04   03   02   01   

2002
12   10   09   08   07   05   
04   03   02   01   

1995
05   04   02